This just makes my head hurt.
Back at the first of November I received the following email from someone who is in somewhat of a position of authority with the youth and parents of my community:
Subject: Fwd: Request of CAUTION
You may already know about this, but I just learned about a kids movie coming out in December starring Nicole Kidman. I believe it’s called The Golden Compass, and while it will be a watered down version, it is based on a series of children’s books about killing God (it is anti-Narnia).
Please follow this link, and then pass it on. From what I understand, the hope is to get a lot of kids to see the movie – which won’t seem too bad – and then get the parents to buy the books for their kids for Christmas. The quotes from the author sum it all up.
This email really rubbed me the wrong way, so I sent this response:
We (Katie, Hannah and I) have read and enjoyed the entire trilogy.
Yes, Pullman is an atheist, and yes, the books in this trilogy contain ‘anti-religious themes,’ but I think the concern is way overblown. In typical fashion, Christian fearmongers are implying that this book and movie are part of some nefarious plot to undermine Christianity. Give me a break!
Hannah read the trilogy maybe two years ago, when she was 11. After she finished, we discussed with her the ‘anti-religious themes’ in the trilogy. She didn’t see any of it. Frankly, the theological implications were WAY over her head and frankly, probably over most people’s heads. Hell, I have a Ph.D. in literature and I didn’t think much about it until Katie brought up the topic.
In fact, you could argue that people SHOULD read the book and see the movie as a stimulus for important discussions. A reviewer that was quoted on the snopes page you linked to wrote: “[Pullman's] fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny…”
Lord knows (so to speak) that the Christian church is constantly in danger of committing ideological tyranny and has frequently gone far across that line. Discussion and awareness of the topic is one way to ensure we don’t get near it ourselves.
You are in a position of authority. People listen to your recommendations. In the future, please don’t pass on such concerns based on hearsay.
It was the tone of this email that really got me: the explicit mention of well-known (apparently former) scientologist Nicole Kidman, the suggestion of conspiracy.
Well, apparently author Brandon Sanderson, who writes science fiction for young adults, received a similar email. He addressed his concerns about such censorship in a blog post. I’m glad to see that he brought many of the same points that I thought of–but of course, he expressed them much more eloquently than I.
I also agree with Brandon Sanderson on another point that he makes: if your faith is so weak that it can be influenced by a work of fiction, then you’ve got bigger problems than the work of fiction itself.
The study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91 percent of young non-Christians and 80 percent of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.
I’ve long maintained that the silent majority of Christians–the people in the pews, not the ones on the radio and TV–aren’t really that engaged in the political and religious battle over homosexuality. I have no doubt that most Christians consider homosexual sex acts a sin (which I don’t really agree with), but I’ve assumed that issues closer to home were of greater concern.
So, when I read the paragraph above, I immediately assumed that this perception was shaped by the bigmouths in the media who spout hatred, but who don’t really represent this presumed silent majority. But then, I read on in the article about the study’s report and found this:
David Kinnaman, who is a 12-year-veteran of the Barna team, pointed out some of the unexpected findings of the research. “Going into this three-year project, I assumed that peopleâ€™s perceptions were generally soft, based on misinformation, and would gradually morph into more traditional views. But then, as we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly â€˜unChristianâ€™ experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected.”
Great. So maybe my presumed silent majority is, in fact, a minority. That’s just depressing in so many ways. It also makes me think that I need to try harder to explain the tolerant and loving version of Christianity to those around me.
Today’s Austin American-Statesman features several articles about emergent churches in Austin. The local congregations profiled in the articles are Vox Veniae, Mosaic, Journey IFC, and Oak Grove Abbey. It’s an interesting and well written set of articles.
What struck me most, though, was that one of these congregations seems significantly different than the others. Some of the members of Vox Venaie are trying to live their faith by moving from the safe suburbs into a poorer inner-city neighborhood, so that they can “share their resources by living among people who have less.” That’s a big step beyond just forming a non-traditional faith community.
As I’ve mentioned before, Fred Clark’s ongoing page-by-page commentary of the horrendously bad first Left Behind novel is always an interesting read. In this week’s commentary, I found an interesting conversation in the comments. I think it’s easiest just to quote the relevant comments.
First, Reverend Ref responds to a line from the novel:
Everything he had tried had failed. … Rayford had never felt more powerless and desperate.
And this is also something that is theologically wrong. We don’t convert people, that is God’s job (or the Holy Spirit if you want to get technical). I tell my parishioners all the time, “All we can do is invite people; conversion is God’s department.” This fundagelical push to constantly figure out how many people you’ve saved is, for lack of a better term, whacked. It’s nothing more than spiritual bullying. Our job as Christians is to proclaim the kingdom of God. We proclaim. We invite. We welcome. We talk. God converts. If the other person rejects that, it’s not our problem. But that DOES NOT mean we revel in their (anticipated?) destruction.
Love God. Love your neighbor. Remember you aren’t the boss.
Well, what about people like myself, who don’t believe that there is any “boss” at all ? You have shown us the way to salvation, and we rejected it as a fantasy. Now (assuming you’re right), we will burn in Hell for all eternity / will be stuck in Limbo forever / will be separate from God for all time / won’t get our 72 virgins / etc. Wouldn’t you want to push your point… and push and push and push… until the atheists do convert ? It’s for their own good, and you love them, right ?
Ok, this is different from typical evangelicals, who only care about themselves (“I’ve converted 10 people last week ! Woo !”), but still, I’m sure there are some people out there who think that way. Three of them were in my math class…
And here’s Reverend Ref’s reply:
If you don’t believe that there is any “boss” at all, and if you reject it as fantasy, that’s your call (that whole free will thing). Am I disappointed? Sure, for a variety of reasons. However, I will not push and push and push… until the atheists do convert. It may be for your own good, as you say, but so was syrup of ipecac (or so my grandmother told me). I would much rather invite you into a discussion about God and invite you to church, be turned down, and then talk about about the Mariners or Seahawks or the weather and have you remain on speaking terms with me (maybe even be considered a friend), than to push and push and push and piss you off.
At least with Option #1 there’s a chance you might change your mind. That’s how I operate during my bar visits. There’s a whole hospitality thing going on there. Not to mention the fact that I do not believe God put me on a quota system.
And Bugmaster again:
Well, if more people thought like you, we’d have less wars (and less theocratic maniacs in charge), so your stance is quite admirable. Still, it sounds like you’d rather acquire a friend in this life, than rescue the same person’s soul from an eternity of torment in the next life. Some people (i.e., zealously religious people) could interpret this as a selfish attitude.
Um … not quite. I’d rather remain on speaking terms with you. Whether you are or are not my friend, I really couldn’t care less. However, I believe that conversion happens through conversation, which has the potential to open one up to the working of the Holy Spirit. If I push and push and push, as you said earlier, and do nothing but piss you off about me in particular and Christianity in general, then I have helped to shut the door. And that, in my book, is sinful behavior.
I don’t know where a conversation will lead, but I do know that not being willing to converse, or sit down at table or any other words/actions that shuts people down will lead nowhere. Witness my own Anglican Communion and the various behaviors there about not wanting to converse with or commune with the “wrong” people. At least if we keep talking, the potential for conversion remains.
And finally, Bugmaster:
Well, your position does make sense. I don’t know much about the Anglican Communion, but some Protestant varieties here in America also have such an isolationist approach. Pretty sad.
Here we have Bugmaster, a self-professed aethist, who has been reading and participating in the comments of a blog by a liberal evangelical for months or longer, and yet, after all this exposure to Fred Clark and many of his commenters, Bugmaster still thinks that their (and my) brand of Christianity is the exception, not the norm. That’s a sad statement on American Christian culture.
Today, Fred Clark blogs about a growing movement in the Southern Baptist Convention to urge parents to pull their children out of public schools. One of the motivations for this movement is to remove children from the “‘metastasizing spiritual, moral and intellectual pathologies of the government school system.’”
As usual, Fred does a very good job of covering the political, cultural and religious aspects of the issue. But his post reminded me of something from my own past. I grew up in the Texas Hill Country just north of San Antonio. We lived just beyond the fringes of suburban San Antonio at the time; you could live more or less in the country and still commute into San Antonio, though it was a long commute.
I can think of quite a few families who moved out of San Antonio to remove their kids from the perceived negative influences of the city’s schools. But by and large, these families continued to deal with the same types of problems with their kids even in the idyllic Hill Country. In my opinion, those families chose to blame the city for their kids’ problems, when in fact the problems lay with the kids and families themselves; moving to the country didn’t change things. Sounds to me like some Southern Baptists might be suffering the same delusion.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between faith and spirituality. I’ve finally nailed down a definition that makes sense to me. Spirituality is a sense that there’s something bigger, transcendent in the universe. This is religion:
Enter Sam: I got sober, I got pregnant, don’t ask me how that works, it is just the way it was. And as some of you may know, there were these tiny little problems. For instance, the father was — comment se dit — not that enthusiastic about my having a baby, and I had no money. But I’d been going to this little church for a while by then, and when I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered. All these old people, raised in fundamentalist houses in the Deep South, cheered. It was so amazing. They almost immediately saw me as the incubator who was going to bring them a new baby, to have and to hold. So they set about providing for us. They brought clothes, they brought furniture, they brought me soul-food casseroles to keep in the freezer, they brought me assurance that he was going to be a part of this family. And they began slipping me money.
Go read the whole essay. It’s amazing.
I frequently describe myself as a liberal or progressive Christian. Twice in the past couple of weeks, I have been asked exactly what that means. While I have some general statements, it bothered me that I didn’t have a concise, easy-to understand answer. In response to this frustration, I started reading Brian D. McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy (which Rick Diamond, who I recently met, recommends on his blog.
I haven’t yet gotten too far into the book, and I don’t yet have an answer to my question, but I found the first chapter of the book to be an informative brief theological primer. In this chapter, Mr. McLaren describes “the seven Jesuses I have known;” he writes a short summary of the unique characteristics of seven ‘branches’ of Christianity. At the end of the seven characterizations, Mr. McLaren writes:
I am a Christian because I believe the real Jesus is all that these sketches reveal and more. Saying that, a question comes to mind…
Why not celebrate them all? . . . I’m recommending that we acknowledge that Christians of each tradition bring their distinctive and wonderful gifts to the table, so we can all enjoy the feast of generous orthodoxy–and spread that same feast for the whole world.
I definitely identify with this viewpoint, so I think I’m looking in the right place to help me voice my views. Stay tuned…
By the way, ‘the Liberal Protestant Jesus’ is one of flavors that Mr. McLaren describes. Since I identify much more with Mr. McLaren’s viewpoint than this one particular flavor, I see why I’ve had trouble describing my own theology. I have a feeling I’ll end up abandoning the word ‘liberal’ as soon as I find a more accurate and less charged description.